aff.; cf.; etc etc

John McNeill rom!john at ZOO.TORONTO.EDU
Fri Nov 12 23:36:43 CST 1993

Not sure if the following got posted on TAXACOM or not; forgive the repetition
if it did.

Would to God there were better things on television!  I have been strenuously
ignoring this torrent on aff./cf., but now that I find 9 further items of e-
mail on this momentous matter, I guess I may as well fill in the moments
before I go down to open a new Gallery with my reactions.

Jim Croft always writes so provocatively that I wish I could find something in
his comments upon which to disagree, but I cannot!  Well said.  Of course, I
could draw his attention to other imprecise "tags" such as "Planta alba an
var." (Planta alba - or maybe a variety thereof) or "Planta alba e descr." (I
have never seen Planta alba in my life but from the [original] description
this could be it - [if it exists]), or even worse "Planta alba e num." (This
sheet has the same [collector's] number as cited material of Planta alba, [but
I have never seen material of P. alba, and I don't know for sure how that
collector chose to assign his - there were no her's in those days - numbers]).

The point of all this is that Dick Jensen has it quite wrong - human
idiosyncrasy over more than two centuries around the world cannot readily be
encompassed in the "well-defined rules and procedures" that electronic dat-
banking requires.  There are two alternatives, both of which Jim considers -
minimal consistent information (his ? for aff. and cf.) - or "say like it is"
and let others fathom it (his reluctant compromise).  Like Julian Humphries, I
prefer that the data-bank do the former (and would satisfy protestors by an
appended text (comment) field).

While Stephen Bentivenga is quite right to plead for people to record how they
use any modifiers, the main problem (in so far as there is one) is how a
suitably ambiguous comment on a herbarium label or in a spirit jar is to be
converted into the straightjacket of a database.  Spurious accuracy must be
avoided - better omit the record from the database than risk a serious
misidentification by omitting qualifiers such as "cf." and "aff" - and all
those others that lurk in dark corners.

I will resist the temptation to have a phylogeny fight with Barry Roth - but
for lots of organisms similarity (albeit analyzed cladistically) is still the
only estimate of phylogeny - we cannot sequence everything.

And I only got into this because I thought that by explaining the Latin
derivations of these terms, I would make it abundantly clear how ancient were
their origins and how imprecise their applications!!

Good night - off to celebrate multiculturalism by opening "The Heritage
Gallery of Canada's Peoples"  - for those who are not politically correct that
means the gallery for those who are not "aboriginal peoples", nor French nor
British!  Cheers.

John McNeill
Royal Ontario Museum

P.S. Forget the garbage at the beginning - the mail begins with an appeal to
the deity.

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